Virus czar: No point in people wearing masks outside alone

National coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said Thursday that he believes it is unnecessary for individuals to wear masks outside when they are alone, and that officials will hold discussions on the matter after Passover.

“After the holiday we will discuss taking off the masks and hopefully it will be possible to do it,” Ash told the Kan public broadcaster. “Outside, in the open air, when you are alone and not in a group, I do not think there is value in masks.”

Ash also told the outlet that discussions were underway about allowing 11th- and 12th-grade classes to be held normally — not in pods — even if they contain a lower percentage of vaccinated students than previously required for that to be allowed.

“We had decided over 90% [need to be vaccinated] and we are now considering lowering this percentage so that more classes will have full studies,” Ash said.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash visits the coronavirus department at Ziv hospital in Safed, Northern Israel, December 24, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Earlier this week it was reported that police officers have been instructed not to enforce the mandate requiring Israelis to wear face masks outdoors, even though in principle it remains illegal to be without them in public.

The focus will instead be on enforcement against those who violate quarantine rules, Channel 13 news reported.

The reported change in enforcement policy is not meant to signal that Israelis may go outside without masks, but if they do and run into law enforcement, they are unlikely to be fined.

Ash on Monday said that from a professional point of view, the masks “are far less significant in open spaces. We still want people in groups and in closed spaces to wear masks.”

However, the director-general of the Health Ministry rejected the idea that face masks could soon be done away with.

“I don’t think so,” Chezy Levy responded during an interview with Army Radio, noting there are still 2.5 million children and another million people over age 16 who are not vaccinated.

Police officers enforce the COVID-19 regulations in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The number of active coronavirus cases in Israel has dipped to the lowest level since June 2020 as serious infections hit a three-month low.

The pandemic has continued to ebb following Israel’s successful vaccination campaign, which has seen a majority of its citizens get the shots.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Israel in serious condition dropped to 385 as of Thursday, the lowest rate since mid-December 2020. The number has been on a steady decline for several weeks.

Thirteen deaths took the toll to 6,214.

New daily cases, the daily share of positive coronavirus test results and the number of active cases have all been on a downward trend for several weeks.

The port of Tel Aviv during the Passover holiday, March 30, 2021 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

There were 489 new cases diagnosed on Wednesday, and active cases now stand at just 7,200 — the lowest number in nine months, according to Health Ministry figures.

There were 39,661 tests carried out on Wednesday, with 1.3 percent of them returning a positive result.

However, the transmission rate, which measures how many people each virus carrier infects on average, rose slightly to 0.57. Any number lower than 1 means the pandemic is slowing down, while a number above 1 means it is expanding. The figures are based on new case numbers from 10 days earlier due to the virus’s incubation period.

Israel has so far vaccinated over 4.7 million people — or over 51.2% of its population — with two coronavirus vaccine shots. About 56.3% of Israelis, more than 5.2 million, have received at least one vaccine shot.

When it comes to vulnerable populations, these numbers are much higher. Over 80% of all Israeli residents over 50 are fully inoculated with two vaccine shots, as are 90% of the over-70 population.

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